Wednesday, November 28, 2007

If you cannot afford 'em, do not have 'em!

Venting is good, right? Get it out in the open and off your chest. Well, here goes.

Christmas is always a slow time at work for us. I can understand to a degree why people do not bring "Fifi" or "Tiny" in for their annual visit at this time of the year. But what absolutely kills me is when the reason for being unable to treat "Fido's" broken leg or "Cassie's" heartworm disease is because "We spent X amount of dollars on Christmas presents, the tree, and decorations and just don't have the money to spend."

What kind of logic is that? You would rather spend money on a toy(s) that your kid/husband is going to forget about in 6 weeks or a tree that becomes mulch in 3 weeks rather than save an animal's life?!? Now sure, some diseases and traumatic injuries are not fixable or may cost thousands of dollars and in that case, euthanasia is an option. But if you are unwilling to spend several hundred dollars on you pet, your companion, then you should not get one in the first place.

I hear this scenario day in day out every year at this time and it is so frustrating. Carly and I have a term for these people. Instead of idiots, MF'ers, or dumba$$, we call them "Jellyfish" or "Jellies" for short. Because, you see, jellyfish have no brain, and it is obvious that these type of people don't either. And "jelly" is a much more pleasant word to say around a 5 year old than the other options.

So if you cannot afford to properly take care of a pet, do NOT have them. That goes for children, too!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

La Ruta -- Suffering Redefined, Part 4

How difficult could the last day be? Only 4800 feet of climbing, then a sweet downhill/flat finish to Playa bonita. The last day of crawling out of bed at 4am with my legs feeling like concrete pillars and my eyes so puffy I looked as if I had been in a boxing match. We had to wait around at the start for an extra 30 minutes ... in the cold rain. Something about a couple of the shuttles had not arrived. I put on my trashbag and also had a plastic bag over my head.

The start began by climbing back up the coffee plantation we had descended the previous day. What a grunt. Again, I enjoyed the descents, as that seemed the only thing I could do well in this race. Not near as muddy as yesterday, but I had to contend with a lot of support vehicles in my way. Nothing more irritating than not being able to "air it out" on a sweet downhill.

There was one superfast straight descent on ashphalt. 3 miles at 44 mph! I think I actually cracked a smile. At the end we had a sharp left turn. A racer was down in this corner: he looked pretty bad with his face covered in blood, but was being attended to by medics. I took this as a sign: Don't screw up on the last day!

Some rollers. Yeah! I finally encountered a hill I could climb with relative ease. Those were short-lived as I hit another loose, rocky steep climb. Not wanting to do any more hike-a-bikes, I was determined to ride, no matter how slow, this last hill. And I did. At the top, I refueled at the aid station and began another long asphalt descent. The rain was pouring down pretty hard, making it difficult to see. I tucked in behind another racer and hoped that he would lead me safely down the mountain.

The last 55k was flat, but not smooth. In between riding the railroad tracks were very bumpy, rocky, muddy roads filled with pot-holes (that could swallow a tricycle). By this point in the race, my crotch was so sore. Amazingly, no saddle sores, but this feeling in my nether-regions is as close as one can get to child-birth!

Starting on the first section of tracks, I said to myself: This is not so bad. The ties were concrete and U-shaped so that the middle of the tie was level with the gravel/dirt between the ties. At this point I was alone. I did see one rider up ahead about 100 yards. I saw him get off his bike and begin walking and wondered why. Question answered as I approached the spot: the first trestle. Only about 15 feet long, but with the rain pouring down, wet ties, and wet shoes, my sphincter factor was a 10. The ties across gaps were not concrete but normal creosote-impregnated wood. One tie was missing. I was nervous, but made it quickly over.

After another mile, I approached the second trestle. Now this was a different story. This bridge was 50 yards across. (First, let me give you a little background on my fear of heights. Climbing ladders makes me tremble with fear!) I tried not to think and just do. I picked my bike and held on to it so tight that I think there are permanent depressions in the frame. I took deep regular breaths and focused on getting from one tie to the other. The ties are about 18 inches apart. Along some of the trestle were 1" by 8" boards that were nailed down (but still wet and slippery. Time seemed to slow down. At several places there were rotten ties, wobbly ties or ties completey missing! What the trestle was traversing was a raging river 30 to 40 feet below! I could hear the turbulence of the river and tried not to look directly at it as I was crossing. The first missing tie I had to cross, I just about panicked! My inseam is 30" which is just about the width I had to cross. I have never been so scared in my life! What the hell was I doing? All I could think about was Carly and Charlie and wanting desperately to see them again. I hoped that if I did slip, as long as I hung onto my bike I would not fall into the raging river below. I made the first few gaps, but my progress seemed so slow. I was getting tired and as I stepped across the next large gap, my forward foot slipped as it landed on the tie. I felt myself going down. The next few seconds were a blur. What I remember is that I did regain control, but that my left hamstring felt like someone stabbed it with a knife.

Then I heard a voice with a Spanish accent. "Give me your bike." I looked up and the racer that had been so far ahead of me was right there with his bike on one shoulder. I handed my bike to him. He turned around and begain walking the remainder of the trestle carrying two bikes. A hand reached out and grabbed mine. A local had come out on the trestle as well and helped me finish crossing the trestle. I gripped his hand so hard! I made it to the other side, legs quivering with fear/exhaustion. I do not want to think about what might have happened had it not been for my guardian angels.

Jorge was the racer's name. He is a Costa Rican and has done this race several times. Needless to say, I stuck to him like glue for the remainder of the race. There were several more trestle crossings (none near as dangerous), but each time Jorge would carry my bike across. I just focused on getting to the finish. We helped to pace one another.

The longest section of railroad tracks was about 5 miles long. Most was relatively smooth, but there were some sections where there was little gravel. My full suspension soaked up the bumps very well. Some of the hardtails were having difficulty, but let me pass.

I heard the crashing of waves and soon saw the ocean and beach. Not far to go now. At this point we paralled the beach and were on a sandy road ... that was flooded. Most "puddles" came up to the bottom bracket. There were a couple racers just up front so I was able to know when to get off and carry my bike through the water. One "puddle" swallowed a racer whole! One second he was visible, the next he was swimming. I was able to laugh at that.

At one point, we hopped back up on the tracks. I was riding along when I saw a train approaching. How dare this train interfere with my wanting to get to the finish. Reluctantly I stepped off to the side to let him pass. As I climbed back on my bike I realized that my odometer was approaching 120k. The finish should be close. But then I was puzzled. I had not passed by aid station 4 yet ... which was supposed to me at kilometer 105. Hmmm! I could see in the distance what I thought was the finish. But as I approached it was the last aid station. Only 10k off of where it was supposed to be. Why would they put one so close to the finish? And why was my rear tire getting so squishy? I stopped at the aid station and realized I had another flat. Just great!!!!! I thought I could probably ride just the last kilometer or mile with a flat. But the volunteers at the station said I had another 10 k to go. What the hell?!?!?! I was so tired and emotionally drained, I had trouble fixing my flat. Jorge helped me with this as well. (I found out later that a trestle had collapsed and they had to reroute us, so it extended the stage by 10k.)

Jorge and I crossed the finish together. I have never been so happy. Having been through so much today, my eyes welled with tears. I was so thankful to be alive and in one piece. Someone definitely was looking out for me!

La Ruta is definitely the hardest thing I have done in my life. I am glad to have participated in one of the hardest mountain bike races, but I do not think I will do it again.

What did I learn?

1. No matter where we live, what language we speak, or what we look like, we are all the same and have the same desires of life. I met so many interesting people from so many countries. And they are just like me.

2. It is amazing what the human body can do when pushed to its limits.

3. My family means more to me than anything else.

4. I am still deathly afraid of heights!

Thank you, Jorge, for saving my life. And thanks to the tico who helped me across.

Friday, November 23, 2007

La Ruta -- Suffering Redefined, Part 3

Day 3 was a pretty straight forward day: 35k up Volcano Irazu, 35k down Volcano Irazu. Once again the start was at 6:30 am. I was praying for my legs to come back to life. It was a little cool and misty and since conditions at the top could vary drastically, I had packed a lightweight jacket, arm warmers, and one 13 gallon white trashbag with pre-cut holes for my arms and head.

The climb was a combination of pavement, mud, and gravel. There was much less hike-a-bike today, for which I was grateful. Still, it took about 2 hours for my legs to feel good. Just as I was feeling better, Mr. Altitude raised his ugly head. This was my first time ever at altitude so I did not know what quite to expect. The best way I can describe it is like trying to breathe through a straw. As long as I was seated, I was o.k. It is when I tried to stand and hammer a little that I got light-headed. Oh well, at this point in the race my aspirations of a top 5 were replaced by a desire to just finish the race.

I was looking forward to the downhill as, ironically, this is where I had the advantage over a lot of the women ... and many men. I am usually a strong climber and poor descender, but in this race, it was reversed. Unfortunately, with all the rain the past 5 weeks, I was told that the descent was going to be very muddy. Forget the gravel road descent; think mud and cow manure covering baby-head to cow-head size rocks.

At the top, I put on all my clothing, including the trash bag, ate an oatmeal creme pie and Payday candy bar and prepared myself for a grueling 20 mile descent. The heavens decided to open up with a downpour. I am so thankful I decided to use an SKS mud fender as it kept the cow manure out of my eyes and mouth. I put my glasses away as they were pretty much useless in the downpour.

As far as trying to describe how technical the downhill was, think of West Virginia mud overlaying Mt Snow/Pinhoti rocks ... for 20 miles! Just plain crazy! And these are roads for the locals! I saw two Toyota Landcruisers stuck and abandoned in the muddy mess. I had to stop one time for a herd of cattle moving up the mountain path.

As we came into the coffee plantation, the road improved and I was able to pick up a little more speed. But I was cautious, as this was where Jeremiah Bishop broke his face last year. After I finished I rode over to the bike wash and let the CicloGuilly guys clean my bike with their pressure washers and kerosene/water mixture. Yes, I was rather disturbed at this method of cleaning, especially on Day 1. By now, though, I was too tired to care!

I got to shower with the guys, today. At least there were stall doors! After ensuring that Manfred (my mechanic) was taking good care of my bike, I left on the shuttle for the Geliwa Hotel. Another advantage to having a pink bike. Manfred, one of the senior mechanics, picked me out on Day 1 and took care of my bike all week. Sweet!

Even though this was the earliest I had gotten back to the hotel, it was a miserable night of sleep. Zeke and I had to share a very small rock hard bed. Not much room to stretch out for fear of touching your bed partner in a rather private area. Then the dogs barked most of the night. And when it started raining again, it was like Chinese water torture. Drip ... drip ... drip ... drip. Not to mention my whole body ached after 3 strenuous days.

Just one more day!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

La Ruta -- Suffering Redefined, Part 2

Day 2 began at 4am. I woke up with cobwebs in my head and stumbled on down to breakfast. I knew that the trick was to get there early enough to beat the other 499 people, so that I could eat quickly and get back to the room to grab my gear and get the first shuttle. At this point the food was only fuel: not to enjoy but to shovel down so that the body could convert to precious glucose.

The shuttle ride was 20 minutes to El Rodeo. Upon arrival, I was amongst the first in line to get my bike. One advantage to having a pink bike was the ability to easily find it among the endless sea of black bikes. We rolled out at 6:30am, but then quickly ground to a halt as we hit that same darn mudhole that we finished in yesterday! After tip-toeing through (I was not enthused about gettting muddy this early in the stage), I was back on track, passing people who were coasting the descents and rolling up the ascents until they just about came to a stop. It was like everyone was on a singlespeed! Having to weave between the hoardes was frustrating.

But the easy hills came to an abrupt halt as we passed through a small community and then hit the first WALL! This first major climb was 300 meters in 1.5k, on loose rock. Once again, off the bike. I immediately began to lose positions as people passed me, who were also walking. I suck at hike-a-bike. It may have had something to do with the painful popping in my right Achilles tendon as well as the super-tight calves.

On the first fast descent, I caught a lot of women who had passed me on the previous climb. I was rockin' and rollin' until I cooked a corner and found a sharp, pointy rock. Pssssssssss! Ripped a knob partially off. Stan's would not fix this. So I stopped and put a tube in. My momentum was gone. And now I was playing the cautious game. I had another tube but still had 50k to go.

I was looking forward to the pavement climb, thinking I would get back into a rhythmn. Wrong! 25k of stairway to heaven climbing. I got a crick in my neck just looking up the climbs. I thought once or twice I saw angels while climbing, climbing, climbing. Just when you thought it could not go up anymore, it did. This is where I ran out of gas. Seeing 2.1 mph on my computer was demoralizing. Seeing only a HR of 136 was also. I was beginning to die. On fumes, I reached the top. I washed 2 oatmeal creme pies down with Gatorade, hoping for a small miracle in the form of ATP's as I had a nice 8k descent to recover.

At kilometer 65 I was feeling good again on the flats. I was able to stand and hammer a little. Once againg I began passing people. I began to smell the finish. I knew it was just a short climb, followed by a quick descent into Terramall. And then I saw the volunteers ahead pointing us to a right turn. This is where I had one of those "You have got to be kidding me!" moments. As far as I could see was a wall of mud! And a line of people carrying/pushing their bikes. They looked like ants. After about a 100 yards of walking I had to push, I was so tired. This is where strength training would have helped me. Carrying a 24 pound bike is easier than pushing a 40 pound bike. See, as you pushed, the mud would accumulate on the tires and bike just like you start with a snowball to create a 5 foot tall snowman!

At the very top was a volunteer who would grab your bike to lift it up the 5 foot cliff. I was so tired by this point that I could not lift my bike. Luckily, a tall male racer was there to help. He lifted the bike and then myself up the cliff. The descent was even crazier. Straight down the friggin' mountain. Imagine Bear Grylls (Man vs Wild) sliding down the Costa Rican slopes ... but with bike in tow! At least now the 15 pounds of mud on the tires and linkage kind of acted like an emergency brake. All I was thinking at this point was, "Don't tear an ACL or rip off the derailleur."

Oh, almost forgot. In between Mud Wall Climb and the Mud Luge Descent was the hip deep walk through shoe-sucking mud. I thought that if this gets any deeper, they might find my fossilized remains several hundred thousand years from now.

I rolled across the finish line ... completely spent. How the hell was I going to get my body recovered for Day 3?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

La Ruta -- Suffering Redefined

Some quick stats: 4 days, 230 miles, 39000 feet, 1 two pound canister of Powerade Endurance, 40 Powergels, 2 flat tires, 1 set of brake pads, 1 guardian angel, and 1 pulled hamstring (which is the price I paid to save my life - more on that later).

I knew the race was going to be very difficult and taxing (both physically and mentally), but I forgot to multiply by a factor of 10. The attrition rate ended up being about 30%. There was also many races after the race. The race to get your bike clean and prepared for the next day, the race to get showered, the race to get a shuttle back to the hotel, the race to eat, and the race to get a decent night's sleep. Needless to say, I did not do so well at the post-race races which then led to a subpar (by my standards) performance on the bike.

The phrases which entered my mind on a routine basis throughout the race were: 1. Oh My God! 2. WTF! and 3. You have got to be kidding me!

Day 1 was by far my best day even after just 5 1/2 hours of sleep and a 2:30 am wake-up call. After a brief 3k (that's kilometers for you Americans) warm-up on pavement and flat dirt roads, the course pitched violently upwards. I was quickly off the bike as there were people falling and struggling all over the place. The grade had to be at least 15% and sometimes felt like 20%. After pushing the bike for 45 minutes, I was glad to be able to climb back on for some sweet descents. Hike-a-bike is definitely a skill I need to work on. How I loved to fly on the downhills ... until I came to quite a lot of racers who either were trying to conserve their energy or just did not know how to carry their momentum up the next grade. Very frustrating for me indeed as I like to spin my legs out on the descents.

This was pretty much how the first day went: steep ascents and steep descents, multiple creek crossings, lots of mud = hiking uphill and focusing on the downhill. The pavement climb was sweet and where I got into a rhythm and met Raoul, a Costa Rican racer. We paced one another up that long climb. Everything was going well until we hit the freshly laid asphalt (fresh as in still hot and tacky)! I swear that if I had come to a complete stop, I could have trackstanded with no hands.

I experienced my first bag of Coke. Oh, so good! Their were many (illegal) support vehicles for the locals. They had food and liquids and spare bike parts for them. They would stop for them near the top of the climbs and hand them fresh gear and fuel. But they were also nice enough to give to me, too (also illegal). One local gave me a bag of ice cold coke, partially flat. I would bite a corner off and drink on the go. Man, that was so refreshing! Muchos gracias, ticos!

The last dirt road climb to the finish was dry and not quite as steep. I was still feeling good and had dropped Raoul on the previous descent so I was on my own. I had a chance to look at the country and realized that Costa Rica is breathtakingly beautiful. I saw a critter scamper across the road which looked like a cross between a bush baby, raccoon, and a red squirrel. (I later found out that this was an oppossum, which looks nothing like ours). I heard many different sounds up in the trees (monkeys, toucans, and macaws). Unfortunately I did not see them; the foliage is so dense. I came in to the finish with a smile on my face ... until I saw the 10 meter mud pit I had to cross! Ugh. Luckily, I found some concrete to scamper across.

I was pretty happy with my 9th place finish and felt like I still had some in the tank for Day 2. Boy was I wrong!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I'm Here

I could not get access to my e mail so I am sending this message to my family. I have arrived without any major issues, built my bike back up, and am awaiting transport to Jaco Beach, which is where the race starts tomorrow. We have to get up at 3 am, eat, and get transported to start line for a 5 am start. I am planning on a 8 to 9 hour day on the bike.

I love you, Carly and Charlie, very much. Carly, I have not found a jaguar or ocelot yet, but my eyes are open. I have not seen any wildlife, but perhaps on the transport. It is a 55 mile drive, but they say it takes 2 to 2.5 hours.

Have a great time with career day tomorrow. Do not forget your stethoscope or your patient, Carly.



Saturday, November 10, 2007

Customer Service

I know there are a lot of racers/riders who stick with small companies because of one-on-one service, quick turnaround, and acountability. But I have got to tout Specialized ... and I am not even sponsored by them ... yet.

I am soooooooo glad I decided to pack my bike for La Ruta a few days early. I started breaking it down at my house and then took it to Bruce at The Outdoor Store the next day to finish. This is my maiden voyage with my bike and I wanted to be sure I did it correctly. Anyway, upon inspection, Bruce noticed a rather LARGE puddle of oil underneath my shock. Oh, crap! Yes, about 10cc of oil had leaked out from around the rebound knob. We figured this was all the oil in the shock.

So here it is, Thursday, and I am leaving Sunday. I have another bike, but it was not race-ready. Bruce gets on the phone with Specialized. With no hesitation they said they would overnight a brand new '08 shock at no cost to me. Sweet! Bruce got the new shock yesterday and I rode my bike last night. All felt good.

I guess there are other companies out there that probably have this type of customer service, but I am sure they are few and far between. And this is not the first time Specialized has come to my aid. They overnighted a Fox shock on another bike a few years back that would not hold air. Once again, at no cost to me. Thank you, Specialized, for coming to my aid so quickly. My heart sunk when I saw all that oil, but within 10 minutes, my spirits were lifted.

And thank you, Bruce, for resolving my crisis. He had even thought about taking the shock off his wife's bike and putting it on mine. This would have thrown a wrench in his weekend plans as Pam and he had planned a trip to Tsali. Luckily that was a fleeting thought after talking to Specialized.

So, after a scary moment, I am back on track. Back to packing my bike.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Child's Perspective

So Carly and I decided to take a bike ride through the country this weekend. While I was getting the Trail-A-Bike attached to my bike, I told her to get her cycling clothes on and find her helmet and gloves. Well, a few minutes later she comes running downstairs and tells me, "I can't get the lid off my water suitcase." This one stalled my thought processes, but just for a few seconds. The water suitcase was her Camelbak Skeeter. Having been a Mom for 5 years, I am pretty used to deciphering her phrases. This is one that will go in her memory book, right next to Old McDonald's (= McDonald's fast food restaurant).

Friday, November 2, 2007

12 Days and Counting

La Ruta is closing in fast. I think I am ready: bike (Pinky is dialed in), passport, clothes, vaccinations, health insurance, legs, and lungs. My last long ride was the Whigg Meadow Hill Climb on Wednesday. It is a 17 mile climb, from an elevation of 900 feet up to 5000 feet along a forest service road in the Cherokee National Forest. That is as close a simulation as I am going to get of the Day 2 Irazu Volcano climb.

Now I plan on getting a lot of rest and doing some short, but intense training rides. And doing some final packing. When I travel, I am not one to take tons of stuff. But I am a little worried about having to put what I need for 4 days of racing in once small duffel. Between my racing kits, spare bike parts, and food, it will be a tight squeeze. The zipper had better be strong!

I am already getting excited about next year. This is going to be the Big One for '08. I am teaming up with Awesome Adventure Racer Lisa Randall! I just hope the food is better. I am still working on getting my other races dialed in. Between work, kindergarten, and my husband's travels, my racing takes a lot of planning and asking for the grandparents' help.